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Essay/Term paper: Osteoporosis

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Science

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Osteoporosis is a health ailment which causes bones to become so porous that they can break easily. Osteoporosis literally means 'porous bones'. The bones in our skeleton are made of a thick outer shell and a strong inner mesh filled with collagen [protein], calcium salts and other minerals. The inside looks like honeycomb, with blood vessels and bone marrow in the spaces between bone. Osteoporosis occurs when the holes between bone become bigger, making it fragile and liable to break easily. Osteoporosis usually affects the whole skeleton but it most commonly causes breaks or fractures to bone in the wrist, spine and hip.
Women are potentially at higher risk of osteoporosis because of the bone loss that occurs when they get relatively old and are experiencing menopause. (Men can, however, acquire the bone disease as well.) The low estrogen level results in an accelerated bone loss. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fracture. There are also many other factors which can increase your risk, and these are early menopause (before 45), early hysterectomy (especially if one or both ovaries were removed), or infrequent periods often linked to over-dieting (especially anorexia) or over-exercising (long distance running). Other risk factors are a fracture after a minor accident or fall, long term or high dose oral corticosteroid treatment, family history (parent or close relative with osteoporosis), smoking, excessive alcohol.
Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are treatments available to help stop further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Studies have shown that both estrogen and raloxifene, a Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator, can prevent the loss of bone mass in postmenopausal women. Alendronate, a bisphosphonate is an alternative to estrogen for bone protection. Calcitonin is another treatment used by women for osteoporosis. This drug has been shown to slow bone breakdown and also may reduce the pain associated with osteoporotic fractures. Treatments under investigation include other bisphosphonates, sodium fluoride, para-thyroid hormone, vitamin D metabolites, and other selective estrogen receptor modulators.
Osteoporosis can be prevented. Regular exercise can reduce the likelihood of bone fractures associated with osteoporosis. Studies show that exercises requiring muscles to pull on bones, cause the bones to retain and perhaps even gain density. Researchers found that women who walk a mile a day have four to seven more years of bone in reserve than women who don't. Some of the recommended exercises include: weight-bearing exercises, riding stationary bicycles, using rowing machines, walking, and jogging. Avoiding smoking and watching what you drink can also decrease your chances of acquiring osteoporosis. Most important of all, a diet that includes an adequate amount of calcium (from milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt), vitamin D, and protein should be maintained. This will not completely stop bone loss; however, it will guarantee that a supply of the materials the body uses for bone formation and maintenance is available.

Birdwood, G., Understanding Osteoporosis (1993). Copyright 1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.
Cummings, S.R., Kelsey, J.L., Nevitt, M.C., & O'Dowd, K.J. (1985). Epidemiology of osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Epidemiol Rev, 7, 178-208. 

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